Chicago Sun-Times

MOTHER OF IN­VEN­TION

Lau­ren Kent and a friend started an on­line group to help other young moms like them

- AS TOLD TO SANDRA GUY, FOR THE SUN- TIMES

In 2014, a cou­ple of women on the South Side started a Face­book group for young moth­ers like them­selves. Lau­ren Kent and Shanya Gill- Gray fig­ured: Who bet­ter to help moms out than oth­ers like them­selves? They’ve helped turn the Moms of Bev­erly group into a net­work­ing force. Kent, 30, a Hyde Park na­tive who has lived in Bev­erly for eight years, spoke with the Chicago Sun- Times about what they cre­ated — and how so­cial me­dia helped em­power them and other young moms.

QUES­TION: You wanted to pro­vide free re­sources and a safe on­line space to other moms like you. Were you sur­prised at the re­sponse?

AN­SWER: I re­mem­ber cel­e­brat­ing our first 70 mem­bers and think­ing that was amaz­ing. In just two years, it’s grown to 2,600 mem­bers. That re­ally blew my mind.

The fact that the steady growth came through word of mouth was just be­yond me.

Q. What’s the most pop­u­lar fea­ture?

A. Rec­om­men­da­tions. Moms are al­ways look­ing for ad­vice — such as for a pe­di­atric den­tist, a nanny or baby sit­ter, a friendly restau­rant to take a 3- year-

old to, ac­tiv­i­ties for 1- to 3- year- olds in the dead of win­ter.

Q. What’s new with Moms of Bev­erly?

A. We’ve had moms who’ve posted that their sis­ter or some­one they know needs ev­ery­thing from a bassinet to baby clothes. For one young mom, I gave away a playpen, and other mem­bers do­nated cloth­ing, a stroller, sup­plies for the baby’s room. It was an over­whelm­ing re­sponse.

Now, we’re try­ing to have more of a pur­pose. This is our first year run­ning “Op­er­a­tion Joy,” a toy drive. Two of our mem­bers said they could con­nect the group to more than 300 lo­cal fam­i­lies in need. We’re re­cruit­ing mem­bers,

ask­ing if they want to do­nate or spon­sor a fam­ily for the hol­i­day sea­son. So many women are “gift­ing” kids the kinds of things they could never have other­wise.

Q. What would you ad­vise oth­ers in­ter­ested in start­ing a sim­i­lar group?

A. Have clear ex­pec­ta­tions for what you want to hap­pen. Make sure you have a good team. Our group has three ad­min­is­tra­tors — my­self, the co- founder and Tina Peter­son, a su­per­ac­tive mem­ber.

Make sure you have the time to build a suc­cess­ful group in a safe space. No one wants to be part of a group where she feels un­wel­come. It needs to be free of per­sonal bi­ases.

We did have our few stum­bles. Moms would want to re­port crime in the neigh­bor­hood. Racial ten­sion got in­serted. We’d re­move those posts. We would con­tact mem­bers and tell them, “We don’t want you to speak about re­li­gion, pol­i­tics and other di­vi­sive is­sues be­cause it can quickly go all the way wrong.”

Af­ter a Novem­ber fatal shoot­ing of a 25- yearold African- Amer­i­can man by off- duty po­lice in Mount Green­wood, we an­nounced, “This is not the place to spew ha­tred,”

ba­si­cally. It be­came very racially di­vided. There is a strong po­lice pres­ence, in­clud­ing po­lice fam­i­lies, in Bev­erly and Mount Green­wood.

We made sure to say, “Hey, if any­one feels she doesn’t sup­port com­mu­nity, di­ver­sity or wel­come­ness, you need to leave.” The re­sponse was over­whelm­ing, with all of the moms say­ing, “Thank you for say­ing this.” They were re­ally happy that they knew the group was wel­com­ing and di­verse.

You see a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity

on so­cial me­dia. Know­ing we have a group who can re­main so pos­i­tive and in­clu­sive speaks vol­umes to me, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Q. You’re a for­mer ele­men­tary school teacher, now mom to Ja­cob, 6, and Jack­son, 3, with a third son ex­pected this month. What are some ac­tiv­i­ties you’ve learned about that are your fa­vorites?

A. The Chil­dren’s Mu­seum in Oak Lawn, es­pe­cially now that I’m at home all day with my 3- year- old. It’s

not ex­pen­sive. Park­ing is free. It keeps his at­ten­tion.

Lo­cal li­braries host free ses­sions where chil­dren read, do arts and crafts and dance and sing. Park dis­tricts have lots of free ac­tiv­i­ties.

An­other fa­vorite is El­lie’s Café in Mor­gan Park. There’s a play area in­side.

I’ve also taken my 3- yearold to Jump Zone in Chicago Ridge, with in­flat­able slides and the bounce house, es­pe­cially when win­ter gets bru­tal.

 ??  ?? VIDEO ON­LINE Moms of Bev­erly co- founder Lau­ren Kent talks about the group’s evo­lu­tion, at chicago. suntimes. com.
VIDEO ON­LINE Moms of Bev­erly co- founder Lau­ren Kent talks about the group’s evo­lu­tion, at chicago. suntimes. com.

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